What is a hackathon?

Not loading? Try this link or step through the images on this page. We’ll even do a youtube voiceover.. someday.

There is a lovely post with deep detail here – you should check it out!

What if I’m attending one for my first time?

Here’s Willow being shouty at some folk to prepare them for their first hackathon:

Roles to Fill

Sometimes the same person will fill multiple roles, or tasks will be broken out by person, rather than role. Think of these more as aspects to be considered, rather than individual people rigid in one set of tasks:

  • Organizer
  • Facilitator
  • Fund Raiser
  • Promotions
  • Assist

To-Do Lists for each component

Take a look at our wiki page


  • Quick Questions
  • Aspiration Tech has a beautifully laid out wiki around such things. You should go there (and give them support!)


Based on what the goals of the hackathon are, you can set the tone in some pretty explicit ways. For humanitarian and collaboration hackathons that GWOB tends to do, stick to the following:

  • Seed for awesome people. When you first open up registration, before the big promotions pushes, be sure awesome people will be in attendance. Ideally, they’ll not only have the technical chops but also a sense of social decorum. They will help set the tone for the rest of the group.
  • No big prizes. People on a team each need to be able to have a part, so laptops and gaming systems are a no-go. Also, when it’s one big cash prize, no one talks to other teams.
  • Give away what jerks tend to covet – ie, IP. Anything made at the hackathon is open source. Not only does this encourage people to work on open source projects (yay!), it also makes sure that people are learning how to work together and collaborate.

Speakers and Mentors

  • Speakers: While speaking slots can be completely customizable, we suggest doing a combination of lightning talks (5 minutes each, general overview of topics) and workshops (30 – 60 minutes on information-heavy tutorials) from subject matter experts in areas such as APIs, security, community building, logistics/workflow, UI/UX, etc.
  • Mentors: Onsite subject matter mentors act as floating resources for the duration of the hackathon, and help teams define workflow, generate ideas, problem-solve, and develop final pitches. Often speakers will double as mentors after their speaking slots are finished.

Mad props to Gunner from Aspiration Tech, to Heather from Ushahidi, and to Kav from Startup Weekend for letting Willow watch them at work.

Want to Hire Us?

We’d be more than happy to chat with you about events around real-world problems with the objectives of long-term impact and community building. Hit us up at info at gwob dot org